Volume 47 - Article 15 | Pages 415–452 Author has provided data and code for replicating results

Women's economic empowerment in sub-Saharan Africa: Evidence from cross-national population data

By Eunice Williams, Sabu S. Padmadas, Heini Vaisanen

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Date received:27 Sep 2021
Date published:15 Sep 2022
Word count:7426
Keywords:agency, Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), economic growth, education, employment, sub-Saharan Africa, women's economic independence
Additional files:readme.47-15 (text file, 480 Byte)
 demographic-research.47-15 (zip file, 71 kB)


Background: Women’s economic empowerment (WEE) has attracted high-level policy interest, and is recognized as a central, cross-cutting outcome, and the cornerstone for achieving Sustainable Development Goals. However, it lacks a standardised definition and standard, measurable, and comparable indicators, and is plagued by large data gaps, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

Objective: We examine the extent of WEE in SSA. Our goal is to identify WEE country typologies explaining the variation in and contributing domains of WEE in each country.

Methods: Using recent DHS data in 33 countries, we apply principal component analysis to generate a WEE score based on 9 indicators in order to better understand the contributors underlying this score and derive country typologies.

Results: Overall, WEE is low but it varies markedly by country. It is typically explained by educational attainment, employment, and land ownership among women alone or in combination with men. We identified 5 typologies of WEE: (1) instrumental agency explained by high educational attainment, (2) instrumental agency explained by land ownership, (3) individual economic advancement explained by high employment rates, (4) basic-level economic empowerment, and (5) low-level economic empowerment.

Conclusions: The level of WEE in SSA varies by country. The factors affecting the level also vary and can be divided into 5 typologies characterising the type of WEE.

Contribution: Our results provide timely evidence for the increasing push to achieve WEE and highlight potential priority areas for policy and programme interventions.

Author's Affiliation

Eunice Williams - University of Southampton, United Kingdom [Email]
Sabu S. Padmadas - University of Southampton, United Kingdom [Email]
Heini Vaisanen - Institut National d'Études Démographiques (INED), France [Email]

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